I’m convinced that our surroundings directly contribute to our mood and stress levels far more than we give credit for.
I’m also pretty sure that our tastes can change as we change and grow – what you liked as a 20 year old may not be the environment you want as a 50 year old.
For example, growing up, we didn’t really go on holidays and I never went abroad until I was 16. Summer holidays involved day trips to towns and villages in the local area and more often than not, the trip was to Dartmoor.
For the most part, I hated those trips. There was nothing to do there – just barren landscape and the unwanted responsibility of keeping my brother entertained.
The upside generally involved a ‘bunny’s ears’ from a nearby ice-cream van but it didn’t change the fact that those days were booooooooorrrrring.
The Dartmoor landscape was nothing more than an endless sea of rock and dead grass to be groaned at.
With age, comes change
Fast forward 30 years and Dartmoor is one of my favourite places in the world.
Not just because I’m no longer expected to entertain aforementioned younger brother – that would just be weird – but because it represents what I want from the world around me. It’s quiet, still, wild, natural and beautiful.
Of course, it was all those things 30 years ago. It has calmly and steadfastly remained true to itself and is what it always was. It’s me that’s changed.
Or at least, my perception has.
What was once boring to me is now something to be actively sought out. And, as an irrelevant aside, I don’t really like ice-cream much now either. Tastes really do change as you get older.
Living in London, with its ever-increasing pace of social activity and vast sea of concrete I’m a fish out of water.
You see, I don’t want to do, I want to be. And for me, that means being in a place where grey is replaced with green, the sea is literally composed of water and the air doesn’t make me sneeze black. Y
ou may have guessed this is an area of life that I’m looking to change. The truth is, personal circumstances mean London is where I’m based for now but that’s likely to change in the next couple of years. And that’s ok.
What matters is that I recognise that I can’t be at my healthiest or happiest if my surroundings are at odds with what suits me best.I don’t want to do, I want to be.Click To Tweet
Why our surroundings matter to our health
I believe that when we feel comfortable in our surroundings, it’s easier to live life through a clearer lens and that’s because how we interact with them may be thought of as an extension of our other relationships. It is fundamental to our health and well-being.
The health of our surroundings can often be reflected in the health of what we see in the mirror.
Just as a reflection may be bright or dull, full of colour or flat and grey, clear or cloudy, so too is this true for how we view our surroundings and our place within them.
Our surroundings are important if we want to live a life of colour and clarity.
However, not all environments are created equal – what suits one person will be the stuff of nightmares for another. It’s also worth pointing out the obvious – each of us exists in a number of environments.
Yet we rarely pause to reflect on whether these are right for us or if we can do something to help us spend more time in those we enjoy and less in those we don’t.
Taking time to notice what’s around us
So often we take our surroundings for granted and our senses become dulled to them as we get comfortable in our routine. We expect to see the same people on the morning bus, for our work space to be exactly as we left it.
We only pause to look twice when something is different, conspicuous by its presence or absence. But when things remain exactly as expected, well, they just dissolve into the melting pot that is our daily assumptions and expectations.
We no longer pick out the individual from the whole.
I’m starting to get better at this. I already know that I have two sounds that make me infinitely happy – the sound of a cat purring and rain on the window pane.
The first I seek (with varying degrees of success) from the four cats that I’m allowed to share the house with. They are of a somewhat independent nature and like to work medieval-style, using the age-old bartering system of trading purrs for food.
But there are things I could definitely be doing to improve my environment.
I’m drawn to bold, bright colours but when I look around me, everything is pale and muted – from the furniture to my food to my clothes.
I should probably do something about that.
And yes, I live in a concrete city but it’s not as though plants and trees and lakes are mythical concepts of some far-off land. They’re not on my doorstep but I could go and find them – it just takes effort.
And there’s the rub. Plenty of causes of stress are beyond our control and it can be really hard to deal with these, especially when it comes to other people’s actions and behaviours.
But no matter where we live or work, I suspect most of us could make some small adjustments so that the world around us is a little more aligned to the world inside us.
And if we made those adjustments, what would happen? Would there be a domino effect?Changing a small thing in one area of life can have a huge and lasting impact on other areas of it.Click To Tweet
It’s the little things that make a difference
I’m a firm believer in the idea that changing a small thing in one area of our life can have a huge impact on other areas of it. And they can be small, unobvious alterations that are even imperceptible to others.
For example, if you’re stuck indoors all day but long to be out in nature, are you able to bring nature to you?
Flowers, plants, fruit, pictures of favourite places, the background noise of a trickling stream or crashing waves of the sea, a room spray of florals or citrus – all things that can help transform a space into something it isn’t, but pretends to be.
Reading this back, it’s obvious to me that I need to take some of my own medicine. I can easily introduce more colour into my life.
I can go out and find nature by driving to the coast at the weekends, I can start to surround myself with the things that make me happy.
It’s just, right now, I can’t do it 24/7. But just because it’s not 100% doesn’t mean it has to be 0%. I can alter my environment to make it a place I want to be in and that helps to reduce my stress levels, not increase them.
It seems I need colour and nature in my world but that’s just me.
What kind of environment inspires you – where are you at your best? What changes could you make so that your surroundings are positive, supportive and allow you to be your best?
Let me know in the comments below along with any suggestions you have for making your work/home/travel surroundings a better place to be. I’d love to hear them!